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Introducing A Child to Hunting
Sharing the Heritage with the Next Generation
Much of the world lives in cities where the simple idea of hunting may bring a negative reaction even more than abortion or pornography. Depending on how many generations removed the individual may be from a family actively involved in growing, gathering or processing their food, has a significant impact as to how much they are likely to be repulsed by hunting - or intrigued by the idea.
I consider myself very fortunate to have grown up in a time when it was expected of the boys (and some Tom-Boys) to go and play in the woods or in the water - as long as you went outside and played. Before I was a teenager, I had built a boat with my best friend that we could paddle across a lake and build a campsite, a campfire and catch supper and cook it. We knew how to clean our fish, catch a small alligator on our fishing poles for fun - skin a cottonmouth moccasin and preserve the skins. This was all within sight of the rockets going off heading to the moon in Titusville, Florida in the mid-1960s.
Even before Titusville, I would go with my father and older brother or grandfather when they went pheasant, dove or squirrel hunting when we lived for a short time in Pennsylvania. I didn't get to carry a gun, but I did get to carry the squirrels or birds once they were taken. I also helped to spot the critters in the trees or in the sky. To this day I can remember a time when I was the one that saw the squirrel that had been shot from up in a tree fall to the ground and run into a gofer hole a few yards away before expiring. I felt like part of the team for the first time.
Along the way I was given responsibility that today a parent might be chastised for. I had all of the family's guns, several shotguns and a couple rifles, hanging in my bedroom on a gun rack on the wall above my bed. I also had all the ammunition for these guns either in a drawer that was a part of that gun rack or in a box between my bed and my older brother's. I was responsible for keeping the guns cleaned once a month or so - because we lived in Florida and the air there has salt in it. Nothing goes long without getting rusty if someone isn't applying a thin coat of oil - running a swab down the barrels and checking on the trigger assembly. Oh, sure I was at least eight or nine before I started actually making ammunition using a Lee Loader on the bedroom floor with my brother, but I could do a box of 12 gauge as well as anyone by the time I was ten!
That was Then, What about Now?
My son is 23 now. When he was three, I would take him with me on dove hunts and let him run and get the birds I knocked down. When he was five, he took his first dove with a .410 shotgun. At the end of his senior year in college, he was president of his college shotgun team that brought trophies home from the National Collegiate Shotgun Competition in San Antonio. It was the same year his girlfriend shot her first buck, a nice 8 pointer.
So did I miss something? I don't think so, but I do think a lot of folks are missing a lot of things. You see, from the time my son was born, (I really did have an engraved shotgun for him when he came home from the hospital) until now, we have spent a lot of time together in the woods or at the gun range. We have hunted squirrels, deer, dove and pheasant together. In many cases, we brought along many of his friends that had never been hunting before. We camped on coastal islands shooting wild hogs, and making a lot of friends across the state. I wouldn't give up any of those trips for a million dollars.
I am sure there are dads that enjoy a good afternoon with their sons and daughters playing a video game for hours on end. I have even sat down for a couple hours a time or two and played video games. But I can tell you, it would be really hard for me to remember much of what was said or anything about that time spent. But if you ask me about a hunting trip I went with my father on - forty or almost fifty years ago - I can almost tell you the clothes I had on, the boots I was wearing, the gun I had or he had and what we did all day long!
I'm pretty sure my son remembers many of the trips we took in the same way. Admittedly, there are a few more of them with him than there was with me and my father - so some might run together a little bit. But sharing the idea of the first conservationists with my family has always been a part of our conversation.
It Isn't Just For Boys
One thing I learned very young was that girls can shoot, and some shoot very well. Hunting isn't much different, meaning girls can hunt very well. My daughter never was one that took to the idea that much. I did take her one time when we were filming a segment of my outdoors TV show. Her mother made her a big blaze orange bow to wear in her pretty blonde hair along with her camouflage clothes. We went squirrel hunting and were able to take a couple squirrels somehow. I remember she was very curious about things, but I didn't push it on her. Anytime she thought something was gross or scared her, I backed it down. She now understands hunting and the reasons behind it - but isn't interested herself in hunting herself. But she likes steak too and isn't interested in cattle farming either.
One of my best friends has two daughters and no sons. He brought both of his girls up to be terrific outdoorspeople. Both have gone on the same hunting trips I took my son on - and gathered a lot of game over the years. I've seen them drag wild hogs and deer out of the woods and swat mosquitoes and plug along through salt marsh with their dad time and time again. I know these girls love the time they got to spend with their father and how much that time he spent with them means to them.
So What Is the Process?
First, understand that the child is a child. Understand that your child is getting influences from their friends, their friends parents and the programs they see on television. If they are school age, they get hit with all kinds of garbage from vegetarianism to animal rights groups that think animals and humans are interchangeable. Once you recognize the reality that you are competing with these influences, you may have half a chance to provide your own thoughts and hopes.
It is important to teach your children along the way. One great lesson is that it isn't a competition when you go hunting. If you come home empty handed, that is why they call it hunting and not shooting. Conservation of a natural resource is fundamental to being a good hunter. Safety - not just firearms safety or archery safety, but good woodsmanship including being very safe with what might harm you - or someone else - if you make a mistake is very important. Knowing if you shoot a rifle at an animal - the bullet has a good chance of going beyond that animal. Knowing you intentionally shot to make the bullet go where there is a solid backstop is smart. Having skills like knowing how to read a map, finding your way in a forest, knowing how to build a fire, cook your food and set up a tent are all great to learn.
When a parent takes the time to introduce all of these different aspects to their child the relationship between the child and the parent has a much stronger bond. It can be done, even today, and it still has the same effects. I remember hearing someone say, "teach your child to hunt and you'll never have to hunt your child." I have also heard, "teach your child to fish and they won't be getting hooked on something you don't approve of."
But what if you are a single mom, or dad, or what if neither you or your spouse grew up as outdoorsmen? Let me let you in on a little secret, true sportsmen, real hunters, people who really love the sport and the outdoors - really love sharing it with people who want to learn about it. Get over the name-calling of "red-neck" and other trivia. Go to a local Dick's or Academy Sports or Bass Pro-Shop and just strike up a conversation with someone. You will be pleasantly surprised how willing a lot of outdoorsmen are to meet with you at a local gun range you never knew exhibited to teach you how to shoot - or even, if you aren't to big of a jerk - take you hunting with them sometime. Be patient - not pushy and not condescending and you will learn again where food comes from. It tastes better when you collected it yourself.
Once you get the hang of it, start teaching what you have learned to your children. Letting them know things like you can only have so many healthy deer on an acre of land - otherwise they get sick and die a horrible death. There can only be so many squirrels or rabbits because if there are too many, some are going to have to die. If they are left up to just nature, nature will take care of it - with more predators, or sickness or starvation. The option is to manage what can fit in by using hunters to perform a needed duty. Don't waste anything. If you shoot it, eat it. Ok, I admit coyotes, crows and an occasional ground hog might get passed me eating them, but not too much.
Spend the time with your kids. It can still be done - even near Metropolis City - within an hour or two there are great places to go hunting for the morning or afternoon. Be safe, and get to know yourself and your child.